Today is his first birthday. I won’t be sharing any cake with him. At the most, my daughter will forward a picture of him that she’ll receive from his mom and dad–his adoptive family.

The day he was born is probably the only birthday I’ll share with him because we’re the birth family, the ones on the other side of adoption. Our daughter, Jessica, made the difficult decision last year to give him to another family she had chosen to raise him.

We had a nine month journey that climaxed when Jessica went into labor, still unsure if she would give her son to adoption or not. Her labor was easy compared to the questions she wrestled with about her newborn. Her circumstances were complicated and volatile. Her reality was tough. Making a decision about what to do was even tougher.

It was a year ago that Gary and I sat in the hospital room with Jessica and the baby. The clock on the wall moved closer and closer to check-out time, which meant Jessica was forced to move closer to a decision. This process, choosing to leave with the baby or without the baby, was a heart-wrenching struggle. It was hard work, leaving our hearts bruised and tender.

When we left the hospital the next day, without the baby, I left with a new appreciation for adoption–the other side of adoption. Our family has spent 20 years on the receiving side of adoption—we adopted Jessica and her twin brother when we lived in Venezuela. (I’ve written before about the receiving side here, here, and here). This time we weren’t the ones receiving. Our daughter was the one giving.

Instead of being the family that said, “We can do it,” like we did twenty years ago, we were the family that said, “We can’t.” Jessica said, “I can’t.”

It’s one thing to say, “I can’t swim,” “I can’t drive,” or “I can’t eat peanut butter.” It’s another thing to say, “I can’t be a mom.” And for myself, it meant saying, “We can’t be those grandparents.”

There are lots of parameters in place to tell us we can’t do different things. You can’t drive until you pass a test. You can’t be a soldier until you’re 18. You can’t ride a rollercoaster unless you’re taller than the mark. But no one tells you that you can’t be a mother. If you’re pregnant, it’s assumed you can do it. It takes guts to even ask the question.

It was a strange place for our family to be, because for years we were the ones who could. We adopted Jessica and her twin brother when their biological family couldn’t take care of them. We could at a time when they couldn’t. But now we were all in a different place. Jessica’s situation was complicated, very complicated, and volatile. As much as she wanted to say, “Yes, I can,” she was honest with herself and the baby to say, “I can’t.” Our family had to say, “We can’t.”

This phrase, “I can’t,” can easily be misunderstood and quickly met with pat answers and superficial clichés. So I’ll share with you three things I learned about those words from the other side of adoption–

1. It was courageous to say “I can’t”. We often think those words are an easy out. You say, “I can’t,” when you’re afraid to try. The coach on the sideline shouts, “Yes you can! Try harder!” Or someone in the aisle says, “Have faith, you can do it. All things are possible.” But in Jessica’s case, it required more courage for her to say, “I can’t,” than anything else she could have said. It wasn’t the easy way out. It took courage to even ask the hard questions and look honestly at her reality. It took courage to give the baby to someone else that can.

2. “I can’t,” doesn’t mean, “I don’t want to.” Some people told Jessica she was selfish for entrusting her baby to his adoptive family because they assumed that “I can’t” meant, “I don’t want to.” More than anything, Jessica wanted to raise her child. She wanted to be the one celebrating birthdays with him, and everything in between. But instead of thinking only about what she wanted, she also thought about the baby’s needs. In her case, saying, “I can’t,” was sacrificial, not selfish.

3. It’s not a forever, “I can’t.” There may be a time in the future that Jessica raises a child. Saying, “I can’t,” didn’t mean that she was saying no to motherhood forever. It meant that she decided she couldn’t do it now.

So today, instead of eating cake at a birthday party, I can’t help but remember the labor pains from a year ago. Not the pain of delivery—I know, that’s easy for me to say. I remember the pains of making such a tough decision–the pain of saying, “I can’t.” My heart feels tender when I remember my new perspective from the other side of adoption. But more than anything, my heart feels thankful.

I’m thankful that Jessica had the courage to say, “I can’t.”

I’m thankful for the other family that said, “I can.”

Happy Birthday!

Linking up with Grace and Truth

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